Reading Greg Holden’s Literary Chicago today. Sure, it lacks the judicious eye of The Literary World of San Francisco & Its Environs and the cool color photographs of The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to Great Britain and Ireland. But it has one advantage over those two masterpieces of the genre. It’s about Chicago.
Archive for October, 2002
I knew that there was going to be a European Union Literary Panel at the Humanities Fest, but didn’t know it was part of a series of three events billed as the European Union Literature Festival. Three events over three days featuring six EU writers: Ulrich Peltzer (Germany), Ray Loriga (Spain), Dacia Maraini (Italy), Dai Sijie (France), Katrin Roeggla (Austria) and Abdelkader Benali (Holland). Day One is a panel, and the next two days offer readings, three authors per session. All have books available in English except Roeggla. Maraini is supposed to be quite a character. Should be fun.
Clare Cavanagh’s lecture at Harold Wash last night was terrific. In a lecture entitled “Poetry and History,” Cavanagh considered the question of why Polish poetry played such a large role in September 11 memorials. (A few instances: The New Yorker published Adam Zagajewski’s poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” on the back page of the September 24th issue, just following the attack on the World Trade Center. A Ground Zero memorial by artist Jenny Holzer consisted of a giant projection of the poem “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska. And Szymborska’s “Reality Demands” was chosen by the Great Books Foundation as the focus of its September 11 remembrance, “Chicago Reflects: One Year Later”.) Her conclusion (much simplified) is that Polish poets, perhaps following the example of Czeslaw Milosz, have forged a uniquely universal perspective, resisting the tempation to focus on Poland’s own unique suffering in this century. Cavanagh also mentioned that she is writing Milosz’s authorized biography.
Isn’t it interesting how Milosz has gradually become everyone’s choice for the greatest poet of the last half of the 20th Century? To get a flavor of how Milosz is regarded this days, read Helen Vendler’s piece in the May 31, 2002 in the New York Review, or (and especially) the piece on Milosz in Seamus Heaney’s new collection of essays, Finder’s Keepers.
Early warning: August Kleinzahler, poet-in-residence at Northwestern, has a public reading coming up in February 2003. I don’t know Kleinzahler well, but he’s been compared to Frank O’Hara and Thom Gunn and anyway has been around long enough and garnered enough praise from other poets to make such comparisions, which are usually gross, unnecessary.
Busy week ahead. The Chicago Book Festival continues, and the Chicago Humanities Festival kicks off this weekend. But two other events shouldn’t be missed amid all this activity. Tuesday night at the Harold Washington Library is a lecture by Clare Cavanagh, whose wonderful translations of Wislawa Szymborska I have particularly enjoyed. Details are on the HWL events page. The other event is a dialogue between philosophers Richard Rorty and Jurgen Habermas, which takes place Friday at the Loyola University Lakeshore Campus. Rorty’s writings about the relationship between literature and life deserve attention from anyone serious about either.
In San Francisco last weekend I picked up a copy of the free monthly San Francisco Reader, which featured an interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I was surprised to read Ferlinghetti’s comment that “there’s not a single independent bookstore in downtown Chicago.” He must have forgotten Brent Books on Washington. (Now if only there were a decent newsstand in the Loop — something on the order of the Chicago-Main Newstand in Evanston.) Because I was out west I didn’t see Ferlinghetti read here last week. Wonder how he was . . .
The rapid approach of the thirteenth annual Chicago Humanities Festival brought to mind Wednesday’s quote from V.S. Naipaul, who was one of the highlights of last year’s festival. The quote comes from the last page of the new collection of Naipaul’s essays, The Writer and the World. Among the literary events at this year’s festival are, in no particular order:
Ralph Ellison Panel
Poetry Magazine 90th Birthday
International Writers (Panel)
Joyce Carol Oates
Michael Holroyd (Shaw)
Gary Saul Morson (Tolstoy)
R. F. Foster (Yeats)
European Union Literary Panel
From V. S. Naipaul, “Our Universal Civilization,” in The Writer and the World (2002):
This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of civilization to so many outside or on its periphery. It is an elastic idea: it fits all men. It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectability and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.
An earlier version of this essay, delivered at the Manhattan Institute in 1990, is here.